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April 4: International Mine Awareness Day

Kulen Intl Mine Awareness Day 140404 01b

How often do we think about where we step?

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How often do we consciously note the placement of our feet?

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How often do we veer from the path because we want to take a shortcut or see a different scene?

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What is it like to live in a place where shortcuts can be deadly?

Today, we hike through a mountainous area of Cambodia that soldiers occupied during war. The fighting ended years ago, but the landmines remain. No one has ever come to clear them—only farmers who burn the hillsides before planting vegetables and fruit trees.

We meet a woman living on this mountainside. We chat with a family—husband, wife, daughter and grandson—taking the bananas they harvest to market. They are civilians, but they still live with the remnants of war.

It is simply coincidence that our hike today takes place on the International Day of Mine Awareness. Worldwide, millions of people live among fields and forests contaminated with landmines, cluster munitions and other explosive remnants of war. Read more here.

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NEWS ROUNDUP January 2014


MAG clears land for Vietnamese pepper farmers

MAG and Roots of Peace collaborate on a sustainable agriculture project that helps impoverished farmers in Quang Tri province grow pepper as a commercial crop. Read the full story from Reuters here.

Hand grenade kills 6 kids in Pakistan

Six children of displaced families from a tribal region of northwestern Pakistan, near the Afghan border, were killed when they found a hand grenade while playing in a field. Read more in the Washington Post.


US Clearance Funding to Laos Reaches All-Time High

The recent spending bill passed by Congress includes $12 million earmarked for bomb clearance, victim assistance and education, according to Legacies of War. Read more here.


UXO Found on Solomon Islands

Thirty-two unexploded bombs have been found in the past two months in clearance operations at west Guadalcanal. Via Threat Resolution Limited. Read more here.


UXO Blast Kills 3 Lao Teens

Several school boys in Bolikhamxay province were playing near an irrigation ditch when an explosion killed one at the scene. Two others died in the hospital, and three others were injured. Via the Vientiane Times. Read more here.


Clearance Workers Destroy Ordnance in Azerbaijan

465 items of UXO and 4 antitank mines were found and destroyed during December clearance operations in Azerbaijan, according to the Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action. Via APA. Read more here.

Storms Uncover World War II shells in Brittany

Clearance teams destroyed roughly 100 German shells found on a popular beach, where weather frequently exposes UXO. Via Threat Resolution Limited. For more news on World War II UXO and clearance, read more here.




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Laos Can Be a Dangerous Tourist Destination – Terry Ambrose

By Terry Ambrose
Nov. 15, 2013
Terry Ambrose Mysteries with Character

EH book coverIt has been 40 years since the U.S. military dropped the last bomb on Laos, yet the effects of unexploded ordnance (UXO) are being felt today. Jerry Redfern is an award-winning photojournalist who moved to Cambodia with his wife, Karen Coates, in 1998. Both are senior fellows at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University. It was an anniversary trip that later kindled a passion in the two about this little-known legacy of war, and encouraged a renewed commitment to redressing historical injustices and building positive peace.

Redfern said, “I thought it would be cool to go to the Plain of Jars. We were living in Cambodia and were there and heard about the bombs. We decided to take an  anniversary trip to the Plain of Jars.” READ MORE.

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NEWS ROUNDUP November 2013

Canada Debates Controversial Cluster Munition Bill Clause

This week, heated debate is taking place in Canada over a controversial clause in proposed legislation to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Canada was one of the first countries to sign the international ban in 2008, but it has yet to ratify the Convention, which prohibits the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions. Debate centers on Section 11 of Bill C-6, which could allow the Canadian military to use or direct the use of cluster munitions in joint operations with countries that have not signed the Convention. More info from the CBC here.


Weapons Cache Found in Cambodia

“A cache of 130 AK-47 rifles, ammunition and two unexploded rockets have been found by a group of children in the Oral mountain range, Kampong Chhnang police officials said yesterday… The rifles were buried in a shallow hole and police are guarding the area while provincial police and the Cambodian Mine Action Centre decide how to proceed, he said. There are fears there may be unexploded mines in the area.” – Via the Phnom Penh Post


American Musician Keith Kenny Performs Benefit Concert in Laos

New Jersey native singer, songwriter and guitarist Keith Kenny was chosen to headline the “We Are Kind” benefit concert to raise money for UXO accident victims in Vientiane. Catch the video with Lao UXO accident survivors break dancing to Kenny’s song, “Limit is the Sky.” More on Kenny and his US Big Red Suitcase Tour here.




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Q&A with author Karen Coates and photographer Jerry Redfern – Haunting Legacy

By Deborah Kalb
Oct. 5, 2013
Haunting Legacy

REDCOATES ParisWriter Karen Coates and her husband, photographer Jerry Redfern, have collaborated on the forthcoming book Eternal Harvest: The Legacy of American Bombs in Laos. Their other work together includes the book This Way More Better: Stories and Photos from Asia’s Back Roads. They are based in New Mexico and travel frequently to Asia. Many of their projects have focused on the issues of food and the environment.

Q: How did the two of you end up working on Eternal Harvest?

A: This grew out of a story on the archaeological work around the Plain of Jars that we did in 2005 for Archaeology Magazine. We had traveled to Laos before and knew the general history of the bombings, but it wasn’t until that reporting trip that we saw first-hand just how devastating the effects remain today. READ MORE

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On Boston and the Eternal Tragedy of Bombs – Rambling Spoon

By Karen J. Coates / Photo by Jerry Redfern
April 17, 2013
Rambling Spoon

XiengKhouangCratersThis week, our nation grieves for lives lost, bodies broken, futures ripped to bits. We mourn the blood splattered on sidewalks of innocents. It is unconscionable, what happened in Boston. As human beings, we struggle to understand. But there are no answers to our repeat questions: Why? Why then and there, to him and her, in that particular city, at that particular event? How long can we expect this pain to last?

As a country, we will move on, because life does. Time does. But grief never expires, it merely moves to the backdrop of daily routine. The memory remains, and many victims will carry both physical and mental reminders through every passing day.

It’s like war: how do we really know the end of war? How do we know when to stop grieving? READ MORE

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Kitchen Bombs – Sabor

By Karen J. Coates / Photo by Jerry Redfern
March 2013
Sabor iPad Magazine

©2008/Jerry RedfernThe sharpest knives in my kitchen began their careers as bombs. They were packed onto U.S. planes and dropped over Laos in an air war that littered the ground with an estimated 900,000 tons of high-grade metal. The Laotian kitchen has never been the same since.

Neither has the farm.

All across the country, blacksmiths turn bits and bobs of old bombs into household tools: knives and hoes, buckets and bowls, machetes, feed troughs, ladders and planters. The sturdiest rice barns in Laos are built on stilts made from U.S. bomb casings. The soil yields endless fragments of material for gadgets, gizmos and props. Villagers attest: It’s state-of-the-art steel and aluminum that lasts long and works hard. “Bomb scrap is the best metal for knives,” according to an ethnic Hmong villager named Thong Van, who lives in the northern mountains.

The bombs fell between 1964 and 1973, in an offshoot of the Vietnam War, unknown to many. In those nine years, U.S. forces flew more than 580,000 sorties, in the equivalent of one raid every eight minutes. READ MORE (PDF)

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How I Got That Story – CJR

Explosive situation

By The Editors
Jan. 2, 2013
Columbia Journalism Review

Redfern_Gastronomica_UXO_03In 2005, Jerry Redfern and Karen Coates were in Laos reporting a story on the Plain of Jars region for Archaeology magazine, and they kept meeting people who had a “bomb problem.” The husband-and-wife team—he’s a photographer, she’s a writer—had lived in Southeast Asia for a number of years, and they were not unfamiliar with the problem of unexploded ordnance leftover from US bombing during the Vietnam War. But until this trip, they hadn’t fully understood, as they put it, “the daily deadliness” of it. They decided it was a story they needed to pursue. Using old US Air Force maps to guide them to areas that were heavily bombed, they spent the next several years talking to the farmers and scrap-metal hunters for whom the risk of death or serious injury is a daily reality. READ MORE

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Q&A with Jerry Redfern – Boulder Stand

Photojournalist Jerry Redfern accepted the first place award for outstanding photography at the 11th annual Society of Environmental Journalists Conference on Oct. 17, 2012.

By Christi Turner
Oct. 17, 2012
Boulder Stand

REDFERN profileAlthough a self-described “straightforward journalist,” Jerry Redfern and his work are far from traditional.

Redfern’s intense, beautiful images from Southeast Asia are compiled in his upcoming book, Eternal Harvest: The Legacy of American Bombs in Laos, which documents what Redfern calls the most important environmental story he has ever done — and perhaps also the most dangerous. The striking images have won him the 2011-2012 Photographer’s Award for Reporting on the Environment from the Society of Environmental Journalists, which he received earlier this week.

Redfern has spent over 20 years in photojournalism, and over a decade of those working in close quarters with UXOs – or unexploded ordnances – in Southeast Asia. He frequently teams up with his wife and traveling companion, freelance journalist Karen Coates, to cover the stories they feel need to be told.  Redfern provided the images for Coates’ upcoming book, This Way More Better: Stories and Photos from Asia’s Back Roads.

As a Scripps Fellow at the CU Center for Environmental Journalism, a fellowship previously held by his wife, Redfern is adding new multimedia to his storytelling arsenal.  Pursuing a project to document, share and live-update the environmental health of the Rio Grande, Redfern hopes to culminate his fellowship with the design of a new mobile app for the purpose.

We recently spoke with Redfern about his extensive travels, his award-winning photographs and his ambitious project. READ MORE

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Dining with Dioxin

By Karen J. Coates / Photo by Jerry Redfern
March 7, 2012
The Faster Times

Sepon-FishFT400-300x300Mrs. Saw had a gravely voice that bugled commands in a grandmotherly way. “Sit down! she insisted. We obeyed, and she shoved steaming plates and bowls of homemade food our way—minced-meat salad, noodle soup, and fresh fish from the river. We ate at Mrs. Saw’s little wooden restaurant near the old Ho Chi Minh Trail most every day and night for nearly a week. And now I wonder: was her fish laced with dioxins? Was her meat safe to eat?

My husband, Jerry, and I knew US forces had sprayed that part of southern Laos with herbicides (mainly Agent Orange and its colorful cousins) during the Vietnam War. But we didn’t think so much about that spraying as we sat at Mrs. Saw’s table and downed her sticky rice with fish paste, chiles and fragrant herbs. READ MORE